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There were so many years where our home lives and learning looked more concrete—seeing, listening, doing. I worried: Am I doing enough, will they have enough? Have we made the right choices in their education? In those years, our school table sprawled with colorful illustrations, imaginative stories, math or language manipulatives. Our sofa housed long hours of read-aloud with Legos or other handwork and hot cocoa or tea. They sound romantic now, but they were hard—my plans often wandering away to take their own form. I was learning patience in one way or another, again and again. But the funny thing is: I miss those days. I am savoring my youngest’s childhood all the more. 

Our days now feel more abstract, conversations piled one upon the other. Minus Olive’s daily practice, our work together is far less colorful and picturesque—who wants to see images of Logic proofs or Latin translations or Algebra equations—but it’s beautiful in its own way and I feel more present somehow, working out these pages with them, making cheesy jokes, seeing glimpses of the incredible humans they are becoming. 

Parenting in every stage requires our attention.  Not our hovering. Not our control. And sometimes, not even our plans. Our attention, more than the books we read or the curriculum we follow, informs them the most. It changes us. It allows us to see beyond the tantrums and scribbled walls and grumbling mornings, to see them—human, soul, developing person. Grace flows from those humble places. And by some miracle, we can look in the mirror and receive the grace for that person, too.

Some stages and phases will feel more like sweet spots for us than others. But don’t give up on the hard ones. The days or weeks or years that seem to take every part of our mind, will, and emotions—well, quite honestly, they are the ones when you and they grow the most. 

There is a modern, cultural pressure that we do everything, even that we do everything well. It has taken most of my adult life to learn there is a difference between doing all things well and doing well at all I do. The first emphasizes quantity––how much I am doing––while the second emphasizes the quality of the work itself. Although the language is nuanced, the second statement implies that not all things are done; in fact, some things are not done at all.

When I first began homeschooling––and several times since––I often wondered, how will I do it all? How will I handle multiple ages and stages at once? How will they each get everything they need in education, experience, character, and life? How will I teach in my weak areas or in subjects I have never studied at all? Here is the short answer that stands true even now: One day at a time. One thing at a time. One request for help at a time.

Over a decade into this journey, we have yet to “do it all.” We have accomplished and learned so much together! Still, our homeschool––and I imagine many homeschools––have been more like a Bob Ross painting than a color-by-number project. We began with a blank slate and vision, but the early years look more like seemingly random white or green or blue formless blobs on the canvas than anything else. Although we kept to formal reading and math lessons, these lessons often seemed inconsistent juggling so many young children and needs. I looked at lesson plans (and created them!) with their tidy lines and congruent messaging, welcoming the path toward redeeming their education, but the reality never seemed as tidy as planned. One child might have been able to detail every type of dinosaur or shark but could not recite math facts––green blob. Another child might have regularly eschewed reading lessons for experimental baking or drawing or climbing trees and building elaborate imaginary worlds and forts––blue blob. Another child might write poems and letters and short stories but also droop shoulders at the study of grammar or spelling––white blob. I have story after story about the seemingly random blobs of paint on our educational canvas.

The details are clarifying as my older children grow older into young adults. I now catch glimmers of specific shapes in our metaphorical painting––perhaps the fortitude to practice difficult maths as an avenue to other ventures or understanding the community books can create with friends or the application of Logic or other critical skills to the movies they watch and the games they play. My favorite details have been the ones I didn’t imagine in that early vision, the gifts and endeavors that have sprung from their own design or personal vision.

The rub is always that I want to know the end from the beginning––in my life and in theirs––but for all our vision and observation and planning, I will never truly know how we each will become. This journey is simply a commitment to walk out the unknowns together. I have been aware of my weaknesses. In fact, those shortcomings can be the first voice within me to rise up and convince me not to do something, not to try something. Maybe you, too? Here’s a marvelous reality: our weaknesses do not disqualify us from teaching our own. If anything, they give us an opportunity to share a primary life lesson with our children at their earliest ages––we are all humble learners; we also need others.

Perhaps you are in a stage of days that feel like paint blobs. Perhaps you are frustrated by your own shortcomings or theirs. Perhaps you feel like you are drowning in it all. Let me whisper a small piece of hope: you do not need to do it all. Are there lessons or extras you can let go of for a time to create margin, to create room to breathe? Are there methods that are not working for your child/ren or for you any longer? Are there people around you to ask for help? I have hired tutoring help and home help at various points on this journey. I have bartered for help in times when our budget was slight. I have tossed our plans in the air and allowed each of us space to be inspired again and remember why we enjoy homeschooling or why we enjoy one another. I have shared my frustrations or tears with people who support me and tucked myself in bed early with books to strengthen my soul. I am not perfect and neither are my children, but more than a perfect experience, homeschooling is a commitment to one another, to each of us becoming. So we begin again: One thing at a time. One day at a time.

This space has been so quiet lately, allowing some much needed room to sort out bits of my heart and home. Time feels so tenuous, doesn’t it––the practical substance of our days, yet impossible to grasp. Yet I have been grasping still.

It seems our home is always moving these day, balls bouncing, doors swinging, water boiling. Our home rhythms have shifted drastically in the last few months, and honestly, I have felt generally overwhelmed accommodating it all. Perhaps it’s the weight of all Mark and I are trying to accomplish raising and educating children. Maybe it’s the context of building our own businesses from home or the lingering home projects waiting to be finished. Maybe it’s more simply that delicate crossroad of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Most likely, it’s a bit of everything, but the fight for a peaceful spirit in the midst of it is real.

I recently woke up in the middle of the night, crying, my chest heavy and cheeks wet. I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, so when tears come, I know they are a little note delivered from deep within me whispering, pay attention. For all I understand about our human need to pause and listen to those around us, I find it sometimes hardest to prioritize this sort of nurturing for my own person. My heart is prone to hiding beneath accomplishment and TO DOs, so when I wake up in the night, heavy with emotion, I know my heart is searching for connection, searching to be heard.

Bluntly put, I haven’t felt happy with this school year from the start. In spite of much prayer and thought on the front end, I didn’t really have clear vision for the year ahead. So many factors have changed for our home, leaving our routine hurried and task-oriented this fall, a constant shifting of roles, expectations, and places to be. I love lists, but I don’t love when life feels reduced to one. Sometimes when I am unhappy with life circumstances, I need to intentionally iterate gratitudes to shift my heart/thought focus. Other times, I need to shift the circumstance altogether. This moment required the latter.

That night, I left my warm bed and headed for the sofa, a pen and paper in hand. I flipped on a lamp, folded the paper in half, and titled two single columns: What I Love in our Homeschool Day and What is Needed in our Homeschool Day. I needed to see our day in simpler terms, written more concretely on paper. I reserved the first column for activities, moments, and studies that connect me with our children and our experience at home together. It’s vital for me to preserve those things. The second list are needs I’ve noticed in our home or in my children, activities necessary to our day regardless of my affection for them. This list acknowledges the parts of this journey that are less fun for me (or them); it doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Looking at the two lists side-by-side, I began to see more clearly ways to simplify our days again, even if just temporarily. I noticed there were tasks or studies or activities occupying our time that weren’t on either list at all. I immediately made notes to eliminate those things. I also realized there were too many things from our days on the need to do list consuming the things I love list. So I began to reevaluate the opportunity-cost, adjusting or removing again. My heart began lifting.

The next morning, the boys went to their weekly class, and the girls and I made tea together. We read aloud and sketched maps and looked at books of art. The girls spoke in their best British accents as we discussed our day and what we read. I was gaining simple vision for our home, and likewise, connection to it.

I know most circumstances will vary home to home or that the lifestyle or academic path that overwhelms me will be different for someone else. You may be feeling overwhelmed for different reasons altogether––with little ones or a new baby in the mix. You may be in your first year of homeschooling or dealing with children crying over math problems or reading lessons every day. You may be a single parent or feel like you’re in this journey alone. I hope you will find comfort here somehow in the very least knowing you’re not alone.

I hope you will also find solace that there’s no perfect way or timetable for accomplishment in homeschooling. There’s no magic moment when you arrive and it suddenly becomes easy or without effort. There will be moments of grace, where lessons––of books or the the heart––are delightful and light in spite of difficult circumstances. I am always humbled by how much my children learn even with my own shortcomings. These parts are a gift. But there are also the accompanying days that require effort, fortitude, and so much prayer. They require me to remember promises and speak light into darkness, and even at times to write lists in the middle of the night. Wink. I’m learning, even a decade on this path, to receive all of it as a part of our journey, our story. The sweet parts are savored because of the bitter ones, not in spite of them.

Still I don’t always have that perspective in the moment, and when I find myself weighted by emotion or heaviness in this journey, there are a few practices I return to again and again, practices good for healing broken rhythms and spirits alike, practices that lift an overwhelmed heart.


light a candle and make tea / There’s something about the warmth of a flickering candle and a drink in hand that massages the soul. When our days become frayed or fruitless, making tea (or hot chocolate) is a balm. I pull out art supplies and a book to read aloud. Sometimes we read something silly just to laugh. Either way, it is connecting and healing for broken rhythms and spirits.

head to the outdoors / Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting in the backyard or on the porch. Sometimes we need to move and head toward a local trail, park, or field. Either way, the divine order and beauty of nature always soothes heaviness and helps create perspective.

plan in 6 week increments / Sometimes an entire school year or even a semester can be too much to forecast. Even if you purchase a full-year curriculum, commit to working through just six weeks, and see how it fits within your home. Some homes that school year round, find it helpful to operate in six week blocks of time and take a week off.

make a list / I’m obviously a list maker; it’s how my brain begins to synthesize information. When I feel clouded by too many swirling thoughts or emotions, it helps bring clarity. Perhaps creating a list like the one I mentioned above may help. For those of you who aren’t list-makers, perhaps jotting down 2-3 small goals you have for the day may be enough to help keep you focused, and to let the rest of it go.

create mental space / Sometimes the root of overwhelming emotion for me is simply the way my brain toggles between diverse thoughts so spastically. We are managing so many things right now, between our own businesses and growing children, and at times it causes my brain to function a bit like the puppy in UP–– squirrel! When I recognize this, taking a moment to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and reminding myself to focus on the task at hand is so helpful.

meditate on simple, uplifting thoughts / Having good and noble words accessible is SO helpful. When my mind feels swirly, sometimes it can be hard to remember or change my thinking to uplifting and positive truths. Keeping a few favorite quotes and Scriptures on hand in my journal, on my phone, or around my computer is a helpful tool to read aloud and train my thinking toward good and true things again.

prioritize personal time / When I become overwhelmed, it helps to create so space for myself, specifically to connect with my thoughts. Although this step seems obvious, getting up early in the morning, while the world around me sleeps in quiet, always helps clarify noisy thinking. If you have younger children in bed early, maybe making space at the end of the day works better. Either way, make some time for yourself, to nurture and listen to your thinking patterns, to your emotion. Always remember to speak aloud something simple you know you always need to hear: you’re enough.

I have been feeling nervous––anxious even––about Liam transitioning into high school years of homeschooling. I have a loud inner-critic and a long memory for naysayers, unfortunately. And while I look back at the last decade without a single regret of our choice to homeschool, I find myself facing new giants as we turn this corner into high school transcripts, standardized tests, more advanced studies, and university in the near distance. I cannot count the amount of wide-eyes I receive when I tell people Liam we are continuing to homeschool next year. “Are you sure you can handle it?” they ask. And the short answer is no. I’m not sure at all.

I am certain that I’ve never been sure though. It is easy for me to feel confident now about our choice to homeschool, to reflect on the beginning years in the context of today, but I felt anything but confident then. I felt curious, idealistic, passionate, motivated, but never certain about our decision. The irregular days of babies and toddlers in the mix, the tears through math, the lack of concrete proof that we had actually accomplished anything at all in those first years was on some days enough to want to quit, to label homeschooling a failed venture and move on. But somehow––miraculously––I never did. I took breaks, tweaked approaches, asked for help, researched weak areas, talked with the kids, but I always got back up and tried again.

I have been reading Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance this month––a book I highly recommend to anyone, especially parents, entrepreneurs, homeschooling parents and teens––jotting down timely encouragements and challenging lines I’ve needed to hear in many areas of life right now. But this one in particular struck me yesterday, “Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.” I realize as the online homeschooling community grows and more resources are made available remotely, it is these hours spent becoming that are most often lost. Even for newer homeschoolers reading this blog filled with highlights, it would be natural to miss the life between the lines, the hours expended in working through hard circumstances or questions, the hours spent becoming.

I have always honestly described homeschooling as the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. And it’s true. It is not hard in every moment or even in a way that might seem like drudgery; there are so many cumulative and deeply satisfying moments of discovery, contentment, accomplishment, and pure joy. There are also many logistical aspects that have eased up with time as our family has grown older. What I mean by hard is that it is a journey that requires continual study of your children and home. It requires you to pay attention, to consistently problem solve and initiate honest conversations. It is hard because you regularly encounter your shortcomings, whether academic, character, financial, energy, or time. It is hard because you have to choose this path again and again. But these moments are the hours of becoming, the hours not always recorded on Instagram, editorials, or this blog. They are the unwritten parts that have intrinsically formed who I am. These hours are rewarding because they are hard, because I have fought for them again and again.

I truly don’t exactly know what the next year will look like for our home as we walk down this path. Our children love homeschooling. They are eager to do it again, and so again, I am stepping forward in courage. The boys will both be in Challenge programs with Classical Conversations, and we’ll build from there. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing with the girls. I’m patiently listening and talking with the girls, thumbing our bookshelves, and researching right now. It will come.

What I hope to say in all of these thoughts here is this: it is not the easy paths that form us. They delight us. They enchant us. They are rest for us. But they do not form us. We are formed by what and how we endure, by the amount of times we fall and get up, by the way we help and receive help from others along the way. This part of homeschooling––or living!––isn’t always beautiful in the ways we want it to be, but it is beautiful. And purposeful. Whether in homeschooling, business, family life, health, or in whatever endeavor you find yourself working toward––keep going, friends. These are the hours we are becoming.

Our four children are five and a half years apart, meaning when we began our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a kindergartener, two preschoolers, and an older infant. I also had a calendar grid of all of the curriculum and plans I had researched and assembled for our learning––music, handwriting, math, reading, art, spelling, history, science and so on––I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and full of ambition. I had put so much thought and time into our decision to homeschool, I felt sure that with all of my plans in place, we could do it! And then, as happens with a home full of children under six, plans fell apart. Just a couple of months in, I found myself frustrated, sometimes only crossing one “school” plan off in a day and on the hardest days, not even crossing off one. I began doubting whether I actually could homeschool. Mark would come home and ask how the day went. Some days I could run him through some activities we had accomplished, but most days, I could only shoulder shrug: what had we actually done? I would rehearse the day aloud, at times feeling defeated by the mundanity: meals/snacks, laundry, nursing? Toilet training, tantrums, sibling squabbles? Read aloud, Legos, painting, play outside? Did we finish our reading lesson, have tears during math, practice our handwriting?

I was looking for check marks, for progression through my plans for our year. I was looking for affirmation, signs that I wasn’t going to screw up my children.  I needed a sign that what we were doing mattered. Like many parents, I wanted so much for our homeschool experience and was working hard to tweak and  improve. I wanted to have an answer when people casually asked about science or history or spelling, to prove that I really could do this, even if it was simply proving it to myself. Homeschooling worked so neatly together in my head, and yet in action, it seemed to be a mess! Some days our home life felt smooth and in sync, in spite of their busyness and our slow academic progress.

When I look back to those early years of mothering and homeschooling, what I needed most was encouragement––little reminders to keep going, perspective from a mother just a few steps ahead. I realize that every parent and home is different. Our goals vary and the texture and nuances of our days will too. That’s exactly as it should be, but today, I want to speak specifically to the readers with littles at home, those who are considering or trying out homeschooling for the first time, for families who have younger siblings at home with you. Here are a few things I wish an older homeschooling mother would have said to me in those years when I was about to quit because I couldn’t reconcile our family logistics with all I had hoped in my head or my plans.

You are exactly who your child needs. Your children are a gift to you, and you to them. Wisdom, counsel, and troubleshooting are so helpful on this journey, but in the end, you have to make choices for your home. Pray. Observe. Listen. Use your intuition. Ask for wisdom from people you trust. And just go with it.

You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here.

Be present. The little years are so demanding, but you will miss them. They are foundational for who your children are to become, for how you will relate as they grow. Don’t worry about what you will do or how you will make it through tomorrow. Work patiently and connected with your children today and you will be prepared for it.

Build your day’s activities around your natural home rhythm, not an academic agenda. When I look back now I notice how often I was fighting our home rhythm. My plans were good plans, but aside from meal and nap times, they had omitted our daily living practices, the personal nuances that make our home work.

Be patient with yourself, and with them. As your children grow, their capacity and attention will grow, too. They’re not interested in a writing yet? Focus on reading and letter recognition and offer them play to strengthen writing muscles. Tears everyday in math? Try a more hands-on approach, like here, or wait a bit longer to begin lessons. Your child is eager for academic lessons, but your home schedule or routine doesn’t consistently allow it? Invite them to help with home tasks for a time and set a specific time for you to work one-one-one with their “school” work.

You do not need an academic checklists to validate your days. For list-makers and high-achievers (raises hand), put aside your plans and study your children. If you must make lists (raises hand again), list books you might enjoy together or a few craft ideas for your week or month. List questions they ask or topics them mention for your next trip to the library or museum or nature walk. Make your lists responsive to the conversations in your home, not burdensome tasks. The early years carry enough tasks and burdens of their own. Wink.

Play more. Play more. Play more. The gift of time and play are one of the best gifts for homeschool families. Here is a favorite book list for ideas to encourage play at home and some of the ways it benefits children of all ages.

Let them be messy. And teach them clean up. Wink. But seriously, the little years are busy and messy. That’s okay. Regular practice of cleaning up together with help them learn a bit about respecting spaces and how to care for one another and our things. It takes time. Our family is still learning this skill.

Save lessons that require more focus for a quieter part of the day. Most children need a quiet time for reading lessons or math. Consider how younger sibling activity and interruptions affect lessons with older children. Look for quiet windows of time, and consider using one of those instead.

Home care and self care are important, too. Teaching your child how to care for the home and themselves is an important lifeskill.  Perhaps your child loathes sitting still but loves helping in the kitchen or with chores. This won’t always be the case, but consider the ways busy hands might prefer to learn.

Everyone has opinions. Smile at strangers who glare or who give their opinions in the grocery line. Also have a short response in your mind’s pocket for the “what about socialization?” question. Wink.

Take care of yourself in the process. Some days you will need to just enjoy coffee on the back porch, while your children play. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. Let the kids play. Put the baby in the crib. Turn on a brief educational show for a bit. Make space for yourself to breathe and regroup. Mothering is hard work and you matter, too. Don’t feel guilty about carving space to take care of yourself in the process.

OTHER FAVORITE RESOURCES TO ENCOURAGE + LEAD

Wild+Free | A beautiful homeschool community full of rich wisdom and varied experience.

Whole Family Rhythms | Seasonal guides for the preschool years at home, inspired by Waldorf methodology.

The Peaceful Preschool | A gentle literature and project-based curriculum, inspired by a variety of methodologies.

Play the Forest Way | Several activities/projects to encourage parents and young children to play in the woods.

The Life-Giving Home | A wonderful encouragement for mothers about the beauty of home in each month and season.

 

 

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingSeveral times in recent months, I have been quieted by the thought that Mark and I can choose how we educate our children, not simply the methodology we follow but to homeschool at all. Even on the hard days––and there are hard days––it is such a privilege. The choice itself is a privilege. For a week each January, National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political effort, seeks to raise public awareness about the variety of educational options for children. Schools, organizations, homeschool groups alike host events nationwide hoping to empower parents with the positive educational options for their children. Last year they hosted nearly 17,000 events, and next week, January 22-28, 2017, one will more than likely be happening near you. If you are interested to know who is participating in your area, here is an event map for you. Today, in my own effort to celebrate the freedom of educational choice, I thought I’d share a bit of our own family’s story, how we arrived at homeschooling these last nine years.

It sometimes surprises people that I never intended to homeschool. In fact, not long after Liam’s birth, on a day when I sat nestled in a bookshop corner reading with him sleeping on my chest, a clerk paused me for brief conversation, wherein she asked if I planned to homeschool him. I politely laughed. Homeschool? Probably not. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought of school options yet. At that point, I was more concerned with showering regularly and sleeping through the night again. I didn’t know anything about homeschooling, let alone whether I was committed to that choice yet, and what little I had observed until that point seemed altogether unappealing. How could I do it with children at different ages? How could I have a life outside of it? How would I know what to teach them? Aren’t homeschooled children socially disconnected? Aren’t they a bit weird?

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began Homeschooling

A few years later, after two family moves and with two more children, I found myself in another conversation with new friends about homeschooling. Liam, my oldest was three and attending a two-day week preschool we loved, a godsend for me in the new transition of three children [in three years]. Kindergarten was growing closer by the day, and suddenly, the school conversation seemed more relevant. Listening to my friends’ conversation and excitement around homeschooling, I couldn’t help my internal naysayer. Do people really do this? Is homeschooling really an option for our family? I understood why people might be drawn academically to homeschooling. At that point, I worked part-time at a local college tutoring in writing and grammar. I experienced the callousness of classroom learning in the students’ attitudes, their lack of preparation and skill. I met many students who had only read one or two books in their entire high school experience, and others who hadn’t been required to read anything more than excerpts from anthologies. With access to computers, most of them didn’t understand the point of reading or of literary analysis. Many didn’t even know why they were there. I certainly understood the academic allure of homeschooling. But what about team sports and school lunch? What about recess and school plays? What about my own time for self, for errands, for personal work? For the most part, I had a positive school experience; wouldn’t my children? I felt stumped.

The following year, Liam returned to preschool two days a week, but sometime mid-fall, he began asking to stay home with us. His teacher, an absolutely precious woman who adored Liam, assured me he was enjoying the days there, but all of these previous conversations began to rattle in me. Was homeschooling an option?  With Liam’s first school years nearing, I began doing my homework, reading books from the library, beginning with The Homeschool Option, a wonderful overview of different ways to homeschool, and then onto John Holt’s How Children Learn and  Teach Your OwnSusan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained MindLeigh Bortin’s The Core, and Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion eventually so many more in Montessori and Waldorf methods. I looked into our state requirements for homeschooling, surprised to discover how homeschool-friendly our state is. My ideas about homeschooling were evolving. I began doing a reading lesson with Liam a few times a week, which he loved some days and hated others. I immediately had to deal with my own expectations and how this journey would look in our home. I was pregnant with our fourth child and could for the most part only imagine napping during the lulls in our day, not making space for a reading lesson. But we kept at it anyway.

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingDuring the preschool year while we deliberated about what to do, Liam continued at his two-day preschool, supplemented with afternoon reading lessons with me, and plenty of art time and outdoor play with his brother just 17 months younger. I used Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years to help guide a few simple hands-on activities. Mark and I also set up tours with several local schools, inquiring about the language immersion program versus the traditional classroom at our local neighborhood school. We visited a few private schools, too, talking with teachers and directors, observing and wondering where our son fit best. I was amazed by the variety of options and diverse experiences. There were schools I quickly crossed off the list, like the one where we were escorted on a tour by a woman in a fur shrug and stilettos. I knew quickly that environment wouldn’t complement our casual, relaxed home atmosphere, no matter how beautiful the classroom or how advanced the technology. There were schools with open concept classrooms and multiple teachers and children working on the floor instead of a desk. There were classrooms that included a child-sized kitchen and personal gardens, where the children were encouraged in independence. There were schools that included daily lessons in French and Spanish, and different schools that issued each child their own laptop or iPad and focused on STEM learning. There were classrooms with igloos made of milk cartons and others with international flags sprawling the walls. Classrooms with traditional desks or tables and ones with only carpet mats.  Uniforms. No uniforms. Neighborhood schools. Schools on the other side of town. I realized, even in our small town, there were several options for us to choose from, options that would require us to know our budget, our family goals, and ultimately, our children. Where would they thrive best? We had to make a choice. Based on Liam’s kinesthetic learning style, difficult time with traditional worksheet methods of learning, and his love of play and art, we chose to homeschool him, knowing three more siblings would be following close behind, too. He loved being at home and was as excited as we were for this option.

I would love to tell you I began homeschooling confident of my abilities, or even confident that we had made the right choice. I didn’t. We began homeschooling as an experiment, with more questions than answers, more ideals than facts. But nine years later, with many soul-searching moments, conversations, research, and prayer, we’re still here, finding this path meandering and growing right with us. While in the early years, I wavered often, especially on the hard days, wondering if we were doing the right thing. I can see the gift of those years now, how precious the experiences with my children are to each of us now, especially the more challenging obstacles. My children have seen me at my best and worst, and likewise for them; they have watched me try new ideas and encourage their own. The beauty of beginning something new together is that the journey has a way of growing us together. For us, this journey is about more than academics and social protocol. Homeschooling is about relational connection, about enjoying their childhood and young adult years together.

The Choice to HomeschoolLast week, we began our school routine again, awkwardly fumbling to find our rhythm for the new year. I grabbed my camera on Thursday afternoon, a random day with nothing extraordinary planned outside of our home. I watched each child toggle from independent artwork or play toward connection with one another, sharing a book or baking a pie together. They don’t always get along. Some days our lessons are more focused on serving one another, on kindness, on attitudes of the heart. These too are preparing them for independent lives outside our home one day, and I’m grateful. Other days we have rich dialogues about ideas and stories we’re reading together. We practice difficult skills in language and mathematics and more practical ones in wood carving or in learning to sew. It is an eclectic path, the most unexpected gift. I will never romanticize this homeschool journey for others. It is hard work and demanding of every resource, but it has empowered me as a parent, taught me how to trust instinct, an instinct that a random bookshop clerk seemed to intuit in me so many years ago.  


This post is sponsored by National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political awareness effort about the variety of educational options. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the organizations and businesses that help keep this space afloat.

doing_less_homeschooling-5doing_less_homeschooling-3 I have a personal drive and eagerness to try and do everything, and of course also to do it perfectly (some of which I wrote about here). It is our cultural assumption that more is always better, that quality and quantity can pleasantly co-exist. And perhaps in some instances they can. That is not my story. More often, doing more things taught me how to skim well, how to cut corners and brush over details. Sometimes that type of learning or living is necessary and fine, but this was the whole of my living. And after while, the lack of balance left me wanting and exhausted, even at times, isolated from my own need.

How does one ever do it all? Sitting just outside my back door, I watch the leaves break loose and float through the sky. How frustrated the trees would be if they tried to accomplish their annual cycle in a single season.

I mentioned on Instagram a couple of weeks ago in regards to homeschooling “what I wish I could tell my younger self again and again is: do less. You don’t have to conquer everything at once, to learn all the things in a week or a month or a year. Keep some room in your day for the unexpected, and watch how your children grow and flourish with room. And watch, Self, how you will grow, too.” I’d like to say that I live daily from this revelation, that I am always confident in what we are or are not doing, but the truer statement is I still have to encourage myself in this truth. 

I don’t have to do it all to offer my children a quality education. And neither do you. There are and will be areas of learning we skim and some we skip entirely. There will be areas that feel organic to our home culture, easy to expand on and delve into more deeply. There will be areas that I will always need and prefer a scripted path to follow (math). But in different weeks and months and years, we will have capacity to learn something different. What I can now understand on this journey is that as my children grow so does their capacity to learn. 

There is freedom in this journey for everyone to bend as each home needs it, whether your family uses a boxed curriculum or none at all. But on occasion, I begin to lose heart or soul or patience and need to reevaluate what brings quality to this journey in our home. Here are a few small thoughts that I have returned to when I have lost perspective or possibly my way: 

  • Teach your children to read as soon as possible. This may take one year or four, but in the process you will introduce them to more teachers and also show them how to learn. 
  • Open the door to nature and you will teach them about order in chaos, and also how to restore their souls.
  • Leave space in the day for them to make something with their hands–maybe a meal, a fort, a puzzle, a garden–and you will teach them about purpose the joy of creating.
  • Practice something hard daily, and you all will learn something about perseverance. 
  • Talk about all of it often.

You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to measure yourself by someone else’s standards, even your own. You simply need to look your child in the eye and listen. In response, you might offer them a book, a pencil, an encouragement, or even perhaps a door outside. When in doubt, take a gentle look into the mirror and do just the same.

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Dear mother,

I’ve been thinking lately about the looming school year and also about this oppressive heat, how every living thing seems to wither under it. “And consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles,” my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Evidence poem. And I can relate, as a woman, as a parent, as a homeschooling mother. In August, the air will buzz with talk of school supplies and routines again. Beautifully organized school rooms and books and curriculum will appear everywhere again––in our texts, emails, social medias, and blog feeds. Perhaps at this point, you know which books and methods your own family will be working through, or how you will schedule (or un-schedule) your days. Perhaps you feel incredibly confident in your decision to keep you children home and confident in how you want to learn together. Or perhaps you haven’t a clue what lies beyond August or even how you’re going to do it all. Perhaps you doubt your decision and question your ability to teach them at home altogether. Where ever you find yourself on that line, it’s okay. I’ve been there, too. Take a deep breath and be encouraged: you are not alone.

I’ve learned over the years that after surveying what others are doing it is possible to feel at once both inspired and insufficient. I can admire someone else’s space and ideas, while also picking apart my own, wondering what I need to do differently or better. I can feel excitement about our own choices, and yet also question it in the context of other options. So before you open your Pinterest boards or favorite Instagram accounts or talk with friends, do this: make it a quest this month to be gentle with yourself. It is after all something new, and should be treated as such. Regardless of how much previous experience you’ve had on this journey of parenting or homeschooling, you have yet experienced this new one. Some parts will feel familiar, and some will be entirely different. Your circumstances will change, and what wisdom you hold from the past will shift you a little. Your children will also be in a new place, whether practicing school at  home for the first time or learning/experiencing new material or even physical growth and change. But first, before opening your inspirations, open your eyes and heart to see yourself and your home in a fresh way. Open your planner and books, not with someone else’s home in mind, but first with your own. For a moment, close your eyes and imagine your family, your home, your current resources at hand, and give thanks for all of it. What is best for them? What great adventure awaits you this year?

I will repeat again to you what I have to regularly tell myself: it is impossible to do everything, but it is possible to do a few things really well. Like most everything else, this is simpler written on paper than it is practiced. I spent my first few years of homeschooling trying to do everything, organizing elaborate lesson plans and fully scheduled days, and I can assure you it left me exhausted and buried with the feeling of not measuring up. I felt inconsistent, because I tried to have a school experience at home. It took me a few years to realize although order and some structure is really good for our home, I needed some time untethered. So I encourage you, regardless of your curriculum choice or love of schedules: leave some blank space in your day, or as stated again in Evidence, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” If you are a planner and prefer to label different hours in your day (raises hand), reserve and label one part of each day as “the unimaginable” and everyone in your home might be happier.

I know there are more things to say to you on these topics, more that I have also been processing about this new year that are still forming. But I will give you a hint of my educational philosophy here in a simple list, not because yours should be the same, but to share the ways that homeschooling (and planning) ought to be simplified and allowed room to breathe:

pray and read together

read, write, and draw/paint a little something everyday

practice with numbers

play outside

work with your hands

talk about ideas and happenings in the world

leave some room for the unimaginable

When I feel overwhelmed or like our week or plans are too full, I will return here to this list, and to these words that although written to you are also written to myself. Perhaps you will remember this letter, too, not for the list above, but simply to remember you’re not alone, to remember to be gentle with yourself and your children, to remember the freedom of unwritten scripts on this journey is joy, not enslavement. I will leave you with one final thought from this same poem, “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure–your life–what would do for you?” The year is fresh, and there is still so much enchantment in this adventure. How will this one look for you?

Warmest wishes,

Bethany

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One of the greatest gifts in my thirteen years of motherhood has been friendship, having other women in my life to hash out the hard questions and celebrate the victories of this beautiful, complicated journey. I also appreciate hearing thoughts and perspectives from mothers, even when we are approaching motherhood in a different manner. It’s nice to be reminded there’s no one set path. We all have something to learn from the other. On that note, I’m glad to be joining a few other mothers each month to write and share thoughts around a single topic. The series is called Real Talk, Real Moms and today I’m joining them to discuss thoughts on education, more specifically preschool–a topic dear to me.

It may surprise some to know I never planned to homeschool. My two oldest went to a sweet preschool two times a week, and it was in my oldest son’s last preschool year, we decided to homeschool instead of sending him to kindergarten. Perhaps I feel endeared to these years because of the sharp turn in trajectory it took for our family. Or perhaps it is that we are now closing this chapter of life for our family that allows me to see the beauty and simplicity of those years. Children learn so much in those years. Their imaginations and ideas literally gape open to the world around them. Still the preschool years can be busy and overwhelming, too. The changing brain causes shifting emotions and behaviors, too. When it comes to deciding how to best prepare young ones for the grammar school years, it can be intimidating to take the responsibility on at home. Where do I begin? How do I know if they’ll be prepared to leave for school? Will this mean I homeschool forever? Will they have enough interactions with other kids? Can I really do this? Thoughts can easily spiral. It’s normal, especially for your oldest child(ren).

Yet preschool at home doesn’t mean recreating a classroom experience at home. The home and world outside it IS the classroom. As Charlotte Mason famously noted, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Homeschooling the little years isn’t simply about finding the right curriculum or creating all the right folder games or even making sure they know a certain amount of information before age five. It doesn’t mean you even need to know what to do the following year or how long you will homeschool. It simply requires you to be attentive, to be willing to step into something new alongside your child. As Mary Oliver wrote, “to pay attention, this is our greatest work.” Homeschooling in general is in many ways simply learning to pay attention. For those of you who are considering homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartener next year, here’s a few helpful lessons I’ve learned along the way, often times the hard way.

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TIPS FOR HOMESCHOOLING THE PRESCHOOL YEARS

start small / Begin with something familiar, with what you know and already naturally do in your home. Do you love making food or being outdoors or painting? Use those processes to introduce letters/sounds and numbers.

focus on your home / Social media can be inspiring and paralyzing. Don’t work to live according to other home principles, but instead open your heart and eyes to see your own. Work to establish an atmosphere of curiosity and conversation. Children want to learn in the early years. They want to satisfy curiosities and discover causal relationships. And for the most part, they love being with you.

read books often / Reading aloud to your children will not necessarily mean they will learn to read earlier, but it will develop a love for stories and expand their vocabulary. Developing a reading culture at home will create an appetite for a lifelong love of words.

play with various art materials / Purchase a variety of quality art materials for your children to use and explore mediums. Make collages from different types of paper or magazines. Draw with pastels as well as crayons and pencils.

keep a basket for busy bees / If you have multiple children or small children who love to be busy, keep a special basket for them to play with at certain times of the day. Consider wood blocks, stamps, play-dough, doodle books, needling board, a lap loom, and so on. Pull it out during read-a-loud or when you’re needing to make dinner or spend one-on-one time with another child.

observe + study your children / Become a student of your children. Watch them. How do they respond to large groups versus alone time? Do they tend to move to learn or sit still and focus? Do they have trouble holding writing utensils? Understanding who your children are and how they learn will help you parent them, whether homeschooling or not.

consider hiring help / No one said you need to do everything to be a good mother. Prioritize what’s most important and look for ways to delegate other tasks. Do you have room in your budget to hire help with cleaning or a babysitter to help run errands or play with the kids for a few hours a week? If your budget is small, consider swapping children with a close friend or asking a close relative for help.

play, play, play / Children discover so much on their own by simply playing. Allow them time to create their own play, checking in on them occasionally for safety.

choose simple materials / When I began homeschooling during these early years, all of the materials we used fit into a small antique cabinet in our dining area (maybe one square foot of interior space). I kept a stack of drawing paper, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, a reading guide, and pre-k materials from Handwriting Without Tears. We made weekly trips to the library and our local children’s museum, and I met weekly with a couple of friends to do a few simple activities, have lunch, and play.

MORE I’VE WRITTEN ON PRESCHOOL AT HOME

Other contributors to this series:

AVE Styles

Design for Mankind

The Effortless Chic

The Refined Woman

Sarah Sherman Samuel